Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), like experiencing child abuse or witnessing domestic violence, are some of the most intense sources of stress that children can experience. This toxic stress produces an abundance of stress hormones that can rewire a child’s brain and body, causing cognitive and social delays and long-term health concerns. Along with immediate health and educational effects, ACEs have also been linked to higher rates of damaging behaviors, like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates ACE costs are over $700 billion per year in the United States.
Sadly, exposure to ACES is far too common. Half of all Pennsylvanians have experienced one ACE, and close to 1 in 5 Pennsylvanians have experienced toxic levels of traumatic stress (3 or more ACEs). Despite these statistics, there remains a lack of awareness of trauma and its impact on all of the social challenges we face as a state and community – homelessness, mental health, substance use, domestic violence, community violence, truancy, and school dropout rates – and a lack of trauma-informed responses as well.
Resilient Lehigh Valley was created to raise trauma awareness and promote individuals, agencies, and systems to adopt trauma-informed practices within our local community. As we began this work, back in 2016 with the Lehigh Valley Trauma Awareness Collaborative (now know as Resilient Lehigh Valley), we quickly realized that in order to establish trauma-informed care as the standard operating framework across our education, health, human services, and criminal justice sectors, we needed to achieve changes in state-level policy, administrative practices, and funding. We needed not only an advocacy platform but we needed advocacy partners to achieve real change.
Members of the Resilient Lehigh Valley team spoke with other trauma-informed champions in PA from Deputy Attorney General Rob Reed and Dr. Sandra Bloom to fellow United Way champions like Suzanne O’Connor with the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, as well as other communities in the state trying to lift up trauma-informed practices – all with the goal of building a statewide network of trauma-informed care champions to help fight for change. Out of the efforts of so many trauma-informed champions across this state, Resilient PA – Growing and Flourishing Together was launched, a coalition dedicated to fostering resilient Pennsylvania youth, families, and communities by promoting trauma-informed care and systems across sectors, raising awareness of the impact of trauma, and advocating for resilience-building policies and funding.
Resilient PA is a subset of United Way of Pennsylvania, an advocacy partner and resource for United Ways statewide on state public policy issues relating to education, income, and health. As the backbone organization supporting Resilient PA, the United Way of Pennsylvania will be able to leverage the thought leadership, community mobilization, and fundraising skills of a network of United Ways to help transform Pennsylvania communities into trauma-informed environments where youth, families, and community members can thrive. Resilient PA will also offer a central platform to connect interested individuals, organizations, coalitions or communities with local community best practices, training resources, and a shared advocacy agenda in trauma-informed care and systems.
Resilient PA is a complementary initiative to the HEAL PA volunteer leadership team organized in May 2020 by the Governor’s Office of Advocacy and Reform. It will help scale trauma-informed care across Pennsylvania while leveraging training and educational resources developed by HEAL PA and connecting communities to share and replicate promising practice.
“Resilient PA is a call to action for us across this diverse state to recognize that everyone has an important role to play in a Pennsylvania future that is more resilient,” remarked Beth Tomlinson, UWGLV Senior Director of Education and lead staff for RLV. “I’m proud of the role Resilient Lehigh Valley played in launching this nonpartisan grassroots advocacy effort to promote trauma-informed care and honored to be asked to lend my support as a Resilient PA Strategic Advisory Team member to achieve our shared vision of resilient youth, families, communities, and systems throughout PA.”
“Placing a goal of increasing an individual’s resilience in dealing with trauma is critical to helping improve individuals’, families’ and communities’ health and outcomes in life,” commented Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne. “I am thrilled that the Lehigh Valley region, led by Resilient Lehigh Valley and the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, has been a leader in recognizing the need for trauma-informed care and education and to see the successes they have achieved will now be shared and replicated statewide.”
Free resources, such as reading materials and trauma-informed practices workshops, are available to any and all interested agencies and community groups. The Resilient PA website will be live in a few months and be a hub of free information for all organizations.
Anyone who would like to get involved with Resilient PA is encouraged to learn more at https://www.uwp.org/resilient-pa/.